(BMG, out Fri 26 Apr 2019)
“I asked myself, ‘what is the thing that I love about acting, and music?’,” explains Kiefer Sutherland as he analyses the reasons why he has swapped the Hollywood set for the concert hall. “‘What is the common denominator?’ For me it’s storytelling and music is a very different way of doing it.”
If simply regaling his audience with stories is his aim with second album Reckless & Me, it’s a low benchmark he just about creeps over. Unfortunately, each of the ten ditties on the disc is nothing we’ve not heard a million times in the past, and Sutherland delivers them in a way that’s certainly no different to umpteen other country and western artists before him.
The lack of originality and the omnipresence of cliché is startling. It’s almost as if Sutherland has settled himself down in front of his MacBook Pro, sharpened pencil behind his ear and notebook to hand, tongue slightly protruding, before assiduously noting down each of the subsections that pops up when he boshes “Americana” into Wikipedia. Then it’s simply a case of inventing a tale to drape around these structural skeletons and penning a jaunty beat to accompany them and hey presto! It’s that simple, one song in the bank, next song. Next song.
Of course, that sort of dismissive criticism is overly harsh. It’s impossible to know exactly how much of a hand Sutherland had in creating the melodies themselves, and while they might be a carbon copy of countless others in the genre, they are at least technically sound and well executed by the instrumentalists. Sutherland’s voice is also surprisingly passable, and while he doesn’t exert himself overly at either extreme of the register, it’s certainly a point for the “pro” column.
Unfortunately, the “con” side is stuffed fit to burst. The derivative nature of the songs and the overly sentimental attitude of the album is enough of a reason to give it a wide berth, but Sutherland’s attempts at creativity are perhaps even more cringeworthy: “Perfectly imperfect from your head to your toes / You could wear anything baby, even guns and a rose”. Every country stereotype you can think of is crammed into the ten-strong tracklist, from the road-tripping refrain to the broken-hearted ballad to the bar brawl number. Even on the rare occasion that a trope hasn’t been expanded into a full track, it’ll still get a mention in there somewhere; rodeos, whisky and heartache all feature, while there’s even room for a bafflingly incongruous “two for the road”. On the scant occasions that Sutherland’s material does veer into personal territory (closing doublet Saskatchewan and Song for a Daughter, for example), any genuine emotion is drenched in mawkishness and drowned by hackneyed stylisation.
All in all, it makes for a depressingly limp tribute to country and western that contributes very little of worth to the genre. Sutherland gets one star for trying and another for the technical accomplishment of the music, but let’s face it: if Johnny No-one had released this monstrosity of cliched self-indulgence, it would be unlikely to see the light of day. As it is, because of Sutherland’s celebrity it’s no surprise that he’s selling out venues all over the country. Fortunately, it appears that the star’s showmanship is picking up for some of the songwriting slack, but outwith a live setting, his stories are ones surely best left untold.